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A Doctor's Hopes for the New Year

Edith Bracho-Sanchez

In the spirit of reflecting, I sat down and put to paper my hopes and wishes for 2018. I titled this “A Doctor’s Hopes for the New Year” but I have to say this is really a Venezuelan-American woman’s hopes for the New Year, which are of course shaped by the fact that I am a doctor- a pediatrician actually. Why the technicalities? Because these hopes, dreams, wishes, are very much mine. They’re very specific to who I am.

1.     In this crazy profession I have chosen-where there’s always more to be done, the hours are long, and emotions run high- I hope exhaustion never kills my compassion for others. I hope to stay human.

2.     I also pray exhaustion doesn’t kill my love for learning. I hope to stay curious.

3.     I hope to continue to have good health and strength so my hands and my words can continue to heal and provide comfort.

4.     Wherever life takes me this next year- and those of you close to me know it could be a number of different places- I hope to give to, and receive from this world with an open heart.

5.     I hope to have the courage to live according to my beliefs, with my own values as my only moral compass.

6.     I pray I continue to desire only things that are true, pure, and good.

7.     I hope this country chooses to protect the children who live in constant fear of separation from their parents. I hope we find concrete ways to help them grow into strong, fearless adults who serve as models of tolerance and love in our society.

8.     I pray the dreams of all the dreamers stay alive while this country finds a permanent solution for them all. Pursuing their dreams should have never turned into a fight. But it has, so dear God, give them strength and courage so they may keep on fighting.

9.     I hope this world also helps the children of my beautiful Venezuela. I hope we help them find food, comfort, shelter, and medicines (the basics really) so they can go back to being children and have hopes and dreams of their own.

10. Lastly I hope we all learn to extend a helping, tolerant, and loving hand to each other. Help us find common ground so we can all move forward. Together.

 

 

Dear American Parent- What Would You Do?

Edith Bracho-Sanchez

Dear American parent - over the last few years I have had the honor of caring for you and for your child at your most vulnerable times. As a pediatrician, I have worked with you to keep your child healthy and to get him through some very difficult times. When you gave me the privilege and the honor of allowing me onto your team, I knew there would be NOTHING that you wouldn’t do for your child.

And I was right. I have seen you bring him to my office when you were worried, a list of questions ready for me. I have seen you up all night at your child’s bedside asking me if there was anything I could do to make your baby more comfortable. I have seen you travel the country and the world, looking for the one person who can give your child hope. When you felt like your child was in danger, I have even seen you defy all rules and bureaucracies; you have come out screaming demanding to speak with me in the middle of the night. You have emailed the hospital’s president.  You have refused to leave the hospital because you didn’t feel safe. And I have respected your fight and your dedication to your child even more.

So what would you do if by fate you had brought your precious child into this world in the wrong country? What if you had no way to guarantee your child that “home” is safe? What if food, clothes, or even a future were no longer guaranteed? What if current rules and bureaucracies didn’t allow you to smoothly transition out of this difficult place?

Dear American parent, you and I both know EXACTLY what you would do. You would take your beautiful child and you would run, you would run as fast as you could. There would be no rule, no law, no wall, no fence, and no government that would stop you from trying to give your child everything this world has to offer.  You would have no fear and you would stop at nothing.

Letter from an immigrant who dared to dream to a dreamer

Edith Bracho-Sanchez

I was 18 years old when I walked into my organic chemistry professor’s office and asked to take my final exam a month early. He looked at me confused “What’s going on Edith?” “Sir, I have to leave the country in a few weeks” I said. My dad picked me up from my college dorm. His eyes watered as he apologized to me for “failing me.” No dad, you did not fail me- being forced to return to our native Venezuela only fueled me. Today, as the Trump administration threatens to suspend DACA, I want to share with all dreamers what happened before, during, and after my return to Venezuela. 

            You see, from ages 14 to 18 I went to high school and college with American teens. I dreamed with American teens, as if I too was allowed. Sometimes I think I dreamed even more than my American friends dreamed. I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to help people, I wanted to travel the world learning and helping, and once my English was a little better, I wanted to speak up for the health and the needs of immigrant communities. The day I found out I had to go back to Venezuela, I felt like my dreams had all crumbled in front of me. I cried until my eyes, my head, and my whole body hurt. What I didn’t know then and what I want to share with you now is this: nothing, nothing, could stop this immigrant from dreaming. My dreams had become a part of me.

We packed the same small bags we had arrived with and went back to Venezuela. I soon realized I no longer really knew the country where I’d spent my childhood years. There were now shortages in basic food items, colleges were often on strikes, and daily life was a struggle. I would never be able to get a spot in the best medical school in the country if I didn’t have “connections” I was told. What they didn’t know is that given the chance, this girl would obtain the top grade in the entrance exam- and they would not be able to take the spot from me. I woke up at 5 am every day and started my journey to Caracas, with faith and with joy. My parents had found jobs 12 hours away, so I stayed with a cousin and worked. What did I do? I taught English, the only tangible skill I had then.

A year passed, and by some crazy turn of fate, my dad- the same dad that had apologized through tears- found a way for us to return to this country. The girl that came back to this country was not the same girl that had left. My parents had sacrificed too much; I had worked too hard and had seen too much suffering. I have now become a pediatrician, I have traveled the world, I have helped countless children, and my English is good enough they even let me speak on national television.

Dear dreamer I want you to know that for you it is also too late- your dreams, your struggles, and your appreciation for your family’s sacrifices have changed you forever. When this world sees your determination, your skills, the love, and the light that comes from you, the universe will conspire to help you. There are no boundaries, no legal status, no hateful policy that will ever contain all that you represent. Trust in yourself, and trust in your destiny.

 

A Christmas Gift

Edith Bracho-Sanchez

I met the little boy I want to tell you about when he was about to die- literally. His poor little body was suffering the effects of a very toxic therapy that would either kill him or save him. We were at his bedside all night. For me, that meant a long shift- 28 hours to be exact- on my feet. For his mom, that night probably just added onto the weeks without sleep.

 “How are we ever going to get this kid out of this one?” I thought to myself. Almost at the same time the attending physician turned to his mother to say “We are going to get him out of this one” To which I then thought “Crap”

Many fluid boluses, antibiotics, vasopressors, and diuretics later, he stabilized.

The days passed, and slowly his body looked more like that of a little boy. Next came the wait- he needed to finish recovering to undergo the next round of invasive tests. Had all of this been worth it? I knew we all wondered, but nobody said it aloud. And then, just like that, he was moved. He was now too stable to be on my service.

His little life and my training went in separate directions….until Christmas Eve. I was working the overnight shift into Christmas Day and was definitely feeling the bitter sweetness that comes with being in the hospital over the holidays. I was on the phone in the elevator- when I saw his mom. She waved and whispered “Come by our room later, we have a surprise”

“Come on in, take a seat” There were toys everywhere. The little boy was playing with his younger sister and together they laughed and giggled. He looked nothing like the boy I had met and treated.

There was light and life in his eyes.

His mother looked at him and then at me- “We just wanted to share some news with you.” I sat still. “This week, we were told- for the first time since he was 2 years old…. he is cancer free”

I looked at her in disbelief. We embraced and tears flowed. And in that moment, in that embrace, my crazy doctor life and the universe around me made sense. Peace went through my soul and my purpose was renewed.

 

Eyeliner

Edith Bracho-Sanchez

Her eyeliner and mine were identical. We saw each other and we knew- “you’re Venezuelan.” Our accents confirmed. We started talking about home at lightning speed; each confident the other was following. It felt easy and comfortable. Then reality hit- she needed STI screening, and she happened to work in the sex industry.

I looked into her eye-lined eyes and said- “You are so brave”

I wasn’t brave though. I was dying to ask her a million questions, all of which likely reflect my own personal view of her job- why leave Venezuela and come to the DR to work in the sex industry? Who protected her from men wanting to harm her? Did she have a safe place at the end of the day?

I asked none of these questions. And the truth is- I have no idea if she would have answered them but I denied her the chance to tell her story that day. Why? I saw too much of myself in her I think, and it terrified me.

“You are so lucky to have a profession” she said before leaving, looking straight into my eye-lined eyes.